A Summer Essential: Salt River Tubing

| By Amanda Oien

Tucson’s raspados and Mesa’s Salt River have two things in common: highly desired during the hot summer months and arguably, equally refreshing.

If you’re wanting to escape the scorching sun this summer or wanting to knock off Salt River Tubing from your summer bucket list, you’re in luck.

Tubers dressed in swim trunks and Hawaiian shirts, holding coolers board a tan and brown school bus, labeled Salt River Tubing and Recreation, headed to the Salt River in Arizona.

The Salt River Tubing season opened Saturday, May 1st. If you’ve never experienced this essential summer activity, we’re breaking it down with tips and tricks to help make your float down the river smooth and splashy.

New Covid-19 Requirements:

  • Face coverings will be required during the tube rentals, returns, shuttle transport to and from the River and on "beach areas"
  • Employees will be wearing face masks and gloves; in addition to daily temperature checks
  • Shuttles will be limited to 20 passengers
  • Shuttles will be disinfected every 24 hours
  • Social distancing will be in effect

Everything you need to know:

The Lower Salt River is located in the Tonto National Forest in Mesa, Arizona and despite its name, is actually freshwater. What a catfish. Speaking of fish, you’ll be sharing the river with Rainbow Trout, Largemouth Bass, Sunfish and Catfish.

Salt River Tubing is open daily from 9:00am to 6:30pm. There are three float routes which vary in length. Be sure to get there as early as possible to avoid long lines.

It’ll cost you $19 + tax and fees per person or tube which includes tube rental, shuttle ride and parking at Salt River Tubing. Children must be at least eight years old and four feet tall.

While mostly smooth tubing, there are some rapids. The trick? Hold on tight and don’t let the rocks getcha by lifting your bum out of the tube.

What to bring:

Don’t dismiss Arizona’s hot sun unless you want to be sporting a lobster-like glow by the end of the day. Bring lots of water, sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply!), a hat and sunnies.

A sheet. Yes, that’s right, a sheet. Thrift a sheet from Goodwill or grab the one you cover your plants with in the winter, in case you lose it down the river. The tubes are black and made of rubber which means it’ll get hot...really hot. Do your skin a favor and don’t let it burn.

A sign along the Salt River in Arizona urges tubers to move left and exit.

Get ready to embark on your floating picnic. Bring food and snacks that can be sealed in a water-tight container. ProTip: Unlike Pringles that come in a cardboard-like cylinder, destined to get soggy, opt for Lays Staxs instead, in a plastic cylinder.

Protect your toes and wear shoes. The river can get shallow in some areas and you won’t want to hit your feet on any rocks. Plus, are you really going to walk on sizzling asphalt in the parking lot? Drag your old tennies out of the closet or channel your inner 90’s child and get some glitter jelly sandals; just stay away from flip-flops. They’ll probably come off.

Bring an ID, cash or card, and your old-fashioned car key. Just expect everything to get wet. ProTip: Keep your ID, phone and car keys on you.  A waterproof phone holder is always handy.

What NOT to bring:

Glass. It’s against the law to bring glass to the Salt River and they will check your cooler before boarding the shuttles.

Valuables. If it any items are lost to the depths, there’s a good chance you won’t ever see it again.

Styrofoam coolers. They’re not allowed on the river either.  

Tubers float along the Salt River in Arizona with greenery and mountains in the background.

The Lower Salt River is home to wild horses. As you float along the river, keep an eye on the banks, you might see a few. With this in mind, remember you’re not the only one enjoying the river. It is a habitat for many creatures that call the Salt River home. Don’t litter and remember to pack out what you pack in.